“Are humans alone in the universe?” is a pretty common question that we all think about. People all around the world have different opinions, though science hasn’t come up with a certain one yet.
For this article, let’s narrow this question down a little bit and ask:
“Are humans alone in their own bodies?”
What if I told you that your body is a colorful and crowded New York City for more than a hundred thousand species of microbes, no matter how many times you shower in a week?
And what if your body should be that crowded in order to remain healthy?
We call the citizens of our biological New York City’s collectively as the human microbiome, a term for all the microorganisms the human body harbors.
In this article, we will get to know the tiny citizens of our bodies better.
Before discussing the tiny creatures that call our bodies home, we might have to sweep some dogmas away:
Microbes, the shortened name for microorganisms, are creatures that are too small to be seen by the naked eye and found nearly everywhere on Earth. The family of microbes contains a variety of organisms including bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists and viruses.
We have mentioned that in and out, the human body hosts a great array of microbes. Research has shown that the amount of microbes on the human body outnumbers the number of cells which constitute the body itself.
About ten years ago, many microbiologists believed that the number of microbes humans carry in and on their bodies were 10 times more than the total number of their cells. Nonetheless, this idea was debunked by recent research and it was understood that the number of microbes was around 1.3 times more than the total number of human cells.
Even if the numerical ratio is relatively little, it’s still really interesting to know that you’re carrying more microbes than the particles you’re made of.
I hear you asking: “Wait, aren’t microbes harmful?”
An environment is dirty if it contains microbes, or you’re probably ill if you have microbes in or on your body - right?
In some cases, we might be, in fact, right about our concerns - perhaps a kind of microbe you have in your body actually carries disease, and will affect you in undesirable ways.
Yet, there’s a point that we’re missing:
The way microbes function and their possible effects on the human body appear as a spectrum.
There are microbes that perfectly suit our fears and concerns as they are pathogenic, meaning they make you ill. Viruses are the most well-known pathogenic molecules.
There are microbes that might cause trouble if found in an environment they’re not supposed to exist in, yet have zero harm on your health in regular conditions. For instance, some microbes on your skin which are harmless might enter your bloodstream if you cut yourself and infections may occur. The reason why any infection would occur in this scenario is that the said microbes are supposed to exist on your skin and not in the bloodstream or in any other part of your body.
Finally, there are microbes that are highly beneficial for your health. Thanks to these unexpectedly friendly microbes, your life is a lot easier: A rich variety of microbes living in your gut helps you digest the pizza you ordered at 3 AM last night while the microbial colonies on your nose and mouth serve as your unsung bodyguards, preventing the pathogenic microbes to enter your body and give you discomfort.
In conclusion, your biological New York City is full of many distinct citizens that perform various jobs for your health - and all are so precious even though you don’t see them.
As the president of your personalized microbiome, what are you doing for the health of your tiny, hardworking citizens?